Blog: Investing in Australia's Future in Life Sciences

23 March 2018

Pictured: MTPConnect CEO Sue MacLeman speaking at a panel at AusBiotech's Asian Investment Series in Shanghai

AusBiotech’s Asian Investment Series – which has received funding via the MTPConnect Project Fund Program – assembled Australian life science companies together with Chinese investors to connect, seek investment opportunities and work on their pitching skills. Following its inaugural event last year, MTPConnect’s General Manager Stakeholder Engagement Dr Alfredo Martinez-Coll attended the Series for the second time in Hong Kong and Shanghai last week, along with MTPConnect CEO Sue MacLeman.

Hong Kong is home to a new breed of entrepreneurs/investors, those moving away from property and into technology ventures. This year, Australian companies pitched their world-leading health innovations to more than 70 investors. The Series provided the opportunity for one-to-one business matching meetings, with presenting companies reporting a huge amount of interest in the room. I saw hundreds of business cards exchanged at enthusiastic networking sessions (which regularly needed to be cut short to continue with the program), and the very well attended business matching meetings.

Hong Kong is seen as a launchpad for Australia to enter China, and this year the delegation was focused on the areas of regenerative medicine, oncology, immuno-therapies, biologics, and clinical trials. I was particularly impressed to see two established companies, that been successful at raising capital/doing deals for existing programs, attend the series to seek funding for new opportunities! This is a good example of the strength of the Australian MTP sector as a product pipeline, key to a company’s growth and stability.

Chinese investors are seeking opportunities in life sciences and technology as evidenced by the continued growth of their Science and Technology Park (HKSTP). For those not aware, there is a bio-samples “green channel” with mainland China to facilitate biological specimens transfer for companies located at HKSTP; and their subsidiary/partner companies located within the Guangzhou Development District at the Pearl River Delta. The “green channel” marked the beginning of a series of game changer administrative arrangements as Hong Kong endeavours to become Asia’s biotech hub.

Our CEO Sue MacLeman, when interviewed by Stockhead about the Asian Investment Series, said, “the Chinese market is looking for solutions to their health challenges and there is no denying there is an appetite for the products we can create in Australia. We took a strong delegation of Australian biotechs — the likes of small caps Regeneus (ASX:RGS) and Bionomics (ASX:BNO) — to Hong Kong and Shanghai, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Large Australian pharma the likes of CSL and Cochlear have already understood the value of that market and established a China strategy — and now the smaller players are following suit.”

From Hong Kong, the Australian delegation travelled to Shanghai - a city with a population the size of the whole of Australia. This is truly one of the world’s megacities. One can only be shocked and in awe of Shanghai- around the riverfront the skyline with modern feats of architecture decorated by multi-colour lights that flood the night, and on the other side (the Bund) and the beautiful historical government buildings.

All of Shanghai’s growth and development has also extended to interests in innovation, life sciences and more, with China expected to overtake the U.S. as the largest medtech market in 2018! The two-day investment event in Shanghai had more than 300 registrations with a completely packed room to host one-on-one business matching meetings.

We heard from Compumedics, an Australian success story and world leader in sleep diagnostics for hospitals and clinics. The company discussed how the ever-increasing stressful world, with longer working hours, and more sedentary lives, leading to disrupted sleep; which has been shown to trigger several conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. They are developing intelligent wearable systems for patients to use at home, which was of particular interest to the Chinese investors, as the technology will hopefully take steps to prevent progression to chronic health issues.

Apart from the company presentations on day one, we also had three excellent panel sessions highlighting China deals, the face of life science investment in the new China, one focused on technology incubators and how Australian companies can connect with the ecosystem.

The second day focused on Australia’s clinical trial capability, with a session chaired by our CEO, Sue MacLeman, with six distinct groups representing clinical research organisations (CROs) and clinical research networks across Australia. The message was clear - Australia has some unique competitive advantages and capabilities to conduct clinical trials (including, excellent quality, data that is accepted in all major jurisdictions around the world, a friendly and efficient regulatory system, a diverse patient population, and the R&D Tax Incentive scheme, to name a few). Despite the CROs competitive environment, it was wonderful to hear from all of them and the clinical research networks that they are all working with one another and have a close-knit community.

In a session around IP in China, I (as I am sure many in the group) was surprised to learn that things are much better than we think, as China has taken big steps to address deficiencies in this area and bring in line with world’s best practice.

A final panel session was around finding trusted advisors for Australian companies hoping to enter the Chinese market. China is Australia’s largest trading partner (imports and exports) and as such there is a long history of engagement with China. Through contact with AusBiotech, other national life sciences industry associations, Austrade (with a significant Landing Pad in Shanghai), and MTPConnect, Australian companies have access to all the right people in the space to assist with their China market entry strategy. So be sure to get in touch with one or all of us to kick-start your entry into a market with a strong appetite for Australian health innovations.